Okay, boys and girls, this is me. Yeah, and I'm no imagination. Can you believe it? I'm hardly able to believe it that the Buffy/Angel muse hit me. It was like a shock, truly. So here I am and a new story the muse is whispering in my ear. And yes, there are stories unfinished, but I can't force them. So this is what I can offer.

Just read with an open mind and tell me if it sucks terribly.

FIC: Open Season (1?)

Author: Jill

Disclaimer: Don't own them. Blah, blah, blah.

Rating: R for now

Spoilers: Complete BtVS and Angel canon is fair game.

Summary: I'm bad with those. So read at your own risk.

Dedication: To whatever Gods let my writing muse sing again.

Buffy slammed the receiver down and Spike winced at the drumming in his ears. "Problem, slayer?" he asked, knowing that she hated when he addressed her that way. Sure enough she sent him a nasty glare.

"Shut up. Instead of listening to stuff that's none of your business you'd rather do what you're paid for."

"Underpaid for," he grumbled and turned back to the translation he was trying to decipher, but kept watching her from the corner of his eye.

"Cry me a river," Buffy snapped and stood, still next to the phone, glaring at it as if it was an offensive object. "Dammit," she exclaimed before she sighed loudly and ran a restless hand through her once again long hair.

"Something wrong in here?" Giles had stuck his head through the door, squinting against the bright sun streaming inside the room through the picture windows.

"No." Buffy sighed again, then shook her head. "Just," she gestured with her hands. "Faith and two of the other slayers were almost killed last night by a bunch of very strong demons. Seems the situation is Cleveland is heating up." She blew out a long breath. "Just what I need."

Giles stepped into the room and Spike saw the grave expression on his face. Not a good sign. "I'm sure Faith can handle the Cleveland."

Buffy whirled around, her glare now directed at her watcher. "Yeah, because she did such a kick-ass job before."

"That's unfair, Buffy, and you know it," Giles chided gently. "Faith came straight out of prison last time, she was not well trained and didn't have a lot of field-time anyway."

"Yeah, sure, find excuses for her," Buffy snapped.

"I am not finding excuses for her." Giles voice was calm, but Spike thought he detected a hint of annoyance. No surprise there. Buffy's recent attitude was grating on everyone's nerves, most of all his own. Or maybe he had just expected too much. But even though his rational self insisted that it was to be expected, the fool in him, and admittedly it was his stronger part, had hoped she would jump into his arms all those months ago when he'd suddenly appeared in her office, all shiny and new, not to forget with a heartbeat. But instead of gleaming with joy, her eyes had been cool and so far nothing had changed.

Spike had a nagging feeling that he knew exactly what it was about even though he tried not to let his thoughts wander that path. There was nothing he could do to help her, as much as it hurt him to admit it.

"Buffy-" Giles started, but she interrupted him by shaking her head.

"Whatever, Giles." She grabbed her purse from the surface as her otherwise empty desk. "I'm off. See you soon, I guess." With that she left the room, not waiting for any good-byes.

Spike watched the empty doorway for a moment, then turned his gaze to Giles who was staring at the space Buffy had just vacated. On his face anger and sadness were fighting for dominance. "She doesn't even care," he murmured, more to himself, but Spike heard it nevertheless. He might not have vampire hearing anymore, but he was close enough to understand it anyway.

"She cares too much," he said quietly. "It's her way to keep herself from hurting."

Giles snapped out of his focus and turned on the former vampire. "Well, if that's her goal, she isn't doing a very good job. But it can't go on like this. A lot of lives depend on her. Just because she isn't the only slayer anymore, she can't get that sloppy about her job."

Something in Spike snapped. "God, how stupid can you be?"

Giles glared. "I beg your pardon?"

"How long have you been her watcher? Do you know her at all? She distances herself from everything to keep herself from hurting."

"And what made you the expert all of a sudden?"

"For one, I'm a little older than you are, even though nobody would guess." He grinned smugly at the watcher's annoyance. He wasn't a vampire anymore, but baiting a watcher still gave him a happy. "Also, I did watch my share of telly in my day. You pick up a thing or two. The Slayer has denial written all over herself."

Giles stared at him for a moment, then sighed. "I know her life wasn't a walk in the park. But it's gotten a lot easier thanks to Willow and her spell. She isn't the only Slayer anymore, she can finally have a life aside from her calling. But instead she is changing into someone who seems to be less Buffy every day."

Spike rolled his eyes at the stupidity of humans. Really, in the big scheme of things, vampires were so much more evolved when it came to understanding what drove a person. Okay, they were evil down to the very bottom, but at least they never lied to themselves. There were times, and Spike would never admit that to anyone aloud, he missed not being a vampire anymore.

"And when did it start?" he asked.

"Excuse me?"

Again, Spike rolled his eyes. Dumb. Humans were just bloody dumb. It was a disgrace, he was one of them now. "When. Did. It. Start? That clear enough for you?"

Giles glared darkly. "I assure you, I'm thoroughly capable to understand English. As a matter of fact, I spent quite some years studying our wonderful language-"

"Blah, blah, blah," Spike interrupted, not caring that the watcher's glare darkened even more. "You speak the language, sure, but it's not about the language, it's about listening."

For a moment Giles looked at the former vampire. Spike did his best not to squirm under that gaze, managing to keep his cool thanks to his long life as a vampire. Then something seemed to fall over the watcher's eyes, like a veil, and he abruptly turned away. "If your expertise is needed," Giles said stiffly, "I will let you know. Otherwise I'd rather have you staying out of my business."

Dismissed. Once again, he had been dismissed. Spike sighed and turned back to his translation, not bothering to watch Giles leave the room. For a moment the former vampire stared at his hands. They were still very pale, had barely tanned even though he'd been living in Rome for the better part of eight months. But he wasn't getting out much.

He was still trying to adjust. After hundred odd years as a vampire, it was a bitch waking up in a hospital with a heartbeat and a broken body, next to a stinking homeless person. So much for dying a hero. He'd done it twice and Spike had come to the conclusion that it thoroughly sucked. Being an evil vampire was a piece of cake compared to the sodding mess currently called the life of William the Bloody.

"Hey, Spike."

"Done with classes for today?" He smiled at Dawn, looking all grown up in her flowery dress, held by thin white straps, a stark contrast to her tanned skin. She wore her hair a little shorter these days, and currently in a ponytail which made her look at least five years older.

"For the week," she replied, plopping unceremoniously on his desk, sucking on a red lollipop. "How about you? Wanna get out some?"

He sighed, shaking his head, "Still have to get this done until tonight. Promised Red to send her an e-mail tonight." He rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache starting right between his eyes.

The red lollipop disappeared in her mouth and she sucked noisily. "Can't you have a break, for just an hour or so?" she whined around it. "We barely have time to talk."

He glanced at the clock. He really shouldn't, but it was too tempting. Not a lot of the people in this building were his friends. Hell, none of them were. The one friend he'd counted on was trying her best to forget he was even there. "Kay then, let's get out of here for a while."

She grinned happily, jumped from his desk. "Great. You want me to push?"

"No." Spike shook his head. "I need the exercise". He grinned at her, "Doctor's orders."

"Kay," she said easily, and skipped ahead, while he slowly wheeled after her, the rubber wheels of his chair making squeaky sounds on the floor.

"This is nice."

Willow turned her head and grinned while her girlfriend tried to squeeze herself into a tight pair of jeans. She quirked her brow. "Nice?"

"Y-yeah," Kennedy groaned, letting herself fall back on the bed to close the buttons. "Remind me the next time some cake winks at me to keep away from it. God, these are tight."

"I agree," Willow said, and admired Kennedy's rear as she got up and looked at herself in the mirror. "But they're cool."

"Uh-huh. Also they were on sale. Just don't make me sit in them."

Willow grinned again and leaned back against the headboard of the queen size bed in their hotel room in Brasilia. "So, what did you think of?"

Kennedy frowned. "Think of?"

"You said 'this is nice'."

"Oh, that. I was talking about civilization. You know, a bed, a bathroom, the kind of stuff that makes you feel like a girl again. A bit of makeup."

"Tight jeans", Willow volunteered.

"Yep." Kennedy took a last critical look at herself in the mirror, then turned to her girlfriend. "How do you feel about going home?"

Willow's gut clenched in reaction. But for Kennedy's sake she tried a smile. "Looking forward to it."

"Liar."

The redhead frowned. "You know me too well. You think I'm predictable?"

"Predictable can be good."

For a moment Willow was transported back to Sunnydale high school when her evil self had visited this world for a night. She had grown older, but obviously nothing had changed much. Well, if you could forget about her going all evil and trying to destroy the world, but she was definitely not going there.

"So I was once told," the witch grumbled. She sighed, "I'm looking forward to see Xander. And Dawnie. But I-"

"You don't know about meeting Buffy," Kennedy finished for her. "And Spike, don't forget that little problem."

"Yeah." Spike was a big problem, too. But as much as Willow hated to admit it, the idea of seeing Buffy made her feel uncomfortable. They hadn't seen each other very often during the past two years, ever since they had closed the hellmouth in Sunnydale for good. And each time it had been a group meeting, usually talking about business, they'd never found the time to talk in private for more than five minutes. Sure, they had talked on the phone but even those calls had become less frequent, and Buffy had been very distant, steering their conversation to business each time Willow had tried to ask something personal.

To say it made Willow uncomfortable was a vast understatement. She was dreading their meeting with Buffy, not sure what to expect. Giles wasn't happy with her, and from the little Dawn offered Buffy's life was far from what they all had hoped it would be.

"It was strange seeing him in a wheelchair." Kennedy was rummaging through her bag, not looking at her girlfriend. "I mean, he's always been strong, almost as strong as Buffy, and all of a sudden…" She trailed off, not finishing the sentence but they both knew what she meant.

"Yeah."

"I was surprised he kept the name. I mean, now that he is human again. I wouldn't want a name connected to killing peop-" She broke off abruptly, and her gaze snapped to Willow, her face full of regret. "Willow, I didn't mean-"

"No, that's okay," the redhead said quickly. "I know what you meant. And I agree. It's strange."

"It's almost as if he is proud of his past."

"Or maybe he just mourns what it stood for," Willow said thoughtfully. "He was strong, healthy. And Buffy was with him."

Kenny made a noncommittal sound, then disappeared in the bathroom for a moment. Willow sighed again and for a moment stared at the phone beside the bed. After short consideration she picked it up and dialled the familiar number.

"Buffy, it can't go on like this. You can't go on like this."

She gave him a long, and so Giles hated to admit, cold look. "And why is that?"

He sighed, got up and walked over to the window that overlooked the Roman Forum. It was a beautiful view at least if you could ignore the hordes of tourists in their disgusting colourful outfits, but Giles couldn't bring himself to appreciate it that very moment. His mind was with Buffy, or rather Buffy's life which for his taste left a lot to be desired.

"Excuse me," he said slowly, "that I find your current lifestyle a little disturbing." He didn't need to look at her to know she was rolling her eyes.

"Are you talking about the way I'm taking care of Dawn, of her education, that she is excelling in all her classes?" Her voice was snippy and Giles hated to hear it. More than everything he hated for what it stood.

"I admire what you are doing for Dawn," he told her, keeping his voice even. "You have done your best to give her a normal life. You are taking care of her needs and God knows you love her." He paused, then plunged ahead, knowing that this would probably end in another fight. "But what about you?"

"What about me?"

"Don't play bloody dumb." Giles kept his gaze firmly on the tourists. He just couldn't bring himself to look at her these days. It had nothing to do with the flimsy outfit she wore or the kind of makeup that would do Faith proud. It was all about her eyes. "You know what I'm talking about."

"You really need a life, Giles." He heard her move behind him, then the sound of liquid being splashed into a glass. "You should find yourself a girlfriend and enjoy time. You earned it."

"You mean like you?"

Finally he turned around and used his best poker face not to let her see how disgusted and saddened he was at the sight of Buffy drinking whiskey at ten o'clock in the morning. He saw her shrug, then take a long sip from her glass. "So what if I'm enjoying life a little? I'm young, and even though I shouldn't be I'm still alive. I gave this world all my youth and now it's Buffy-time for a change."

He stared at her, wondering when she'd become so bitter. Had it happened after she'd come back from the dead? Or before? Maybe later? He felt bad for missing it, but it didn't change facts. "You are still a slayer, Buffy."

She stared right back and slowly emptied her glass, then set it down. "A. The word is A. Yes, I'm a slayer, and I'm still slaying." She paused and seemed to consider her words. "Well, sometimes," she conceded, "if something should occur. But finally I'm not the Chosen one anymore. There are lots of slayers and we did a good job in training them."

"Yes we did," he agreed. "And I would never belittle what you did for the world. God knows I was there for most of it." He viciously squelched the guilty little voice that told him he had deserted her when she had needed him most. "And I'm the last to tell you that you can't have fun. But," he talked right over her attempt to interrupt him, "this isn't about fun. You are on a path to self-destruction, Buffy, and I'm here to tell you that it has to end now."

She laughed and once again did what he least expected of her, even though he should have known. It wasn't a mocking laugh, but a full belly one. He should have been glad to hear it, instead it made his gut clench.

"Self-destruction?" she managed after she had calmed enough to talk again. "That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. And that from the guy who summoned Eygon just to pass time."

Giles took a deep breath and tried not to let the remark hurt him. He failed miserably. "And I paid the price. Maybe it's because of it that I understand better than anyone what you're going through."

She poured herself another glass of whiskey and emptied it in one go, then slammed it down on the counter of her kitchenette. "You have no idea what I'm going through. My life was taken from me," she hissed. "I was barely fifteen years old when a stuffy British guy told me I had a sacred duty, that I had to sacrifice for the greater good."

"Buffy-"

She cut him off with a slashing motion of her hand. "And sacrifice I did. My parents thought their daughter was a delinquent, I had to kill the one person I loved more than anything in my life, more than-" her voice wavered, but she pulled herself together in an instant. "Anyway, I watched my lover leave me, and not just once if I may add. I buried my mom. I got a sister that was never born. And when I finally, finally- "again her voice wavered, and again she took a deep breath and was calm once more, "found peace, my so called friends couldn't leave me be. So, Giles, tell me again how wonderful my life has been so far."

It was true. They both knew. But the tragic irony was that now she finally had a chance for a normal life, or what could be normal for a slayer, she was throwing it away.

"I know all this, Buffy." He took a step closer to her, but she backed away. "I know that your life has been hard. Mine wasn't a picnic either. But you are not living your life now, you are throwing it away."

"Because I have a drink once or twice?" Her voice sounded so incredulous, so baffled that for a moment Giles felt the insane need to laugh. He knew now why he never wanted to have kids of his own. But then Buffy had come into his life and things had changed.

"Not just once or twice. Dawn was shocked at the amount of alcohol you're consuming-"

"So Dawn told you, huh?" She was watching him through narrowed eyes. "What, she comes home for a weekend and all of a sudden she knows what makes Buffy tick?"

"No, but she came home to find her sister passed out drunk on her bed, a naked guy beside her. And when said sister woke up in the morning, she could neither remember the drinking nor the guy she had spent the night with." Yes, he was angry now, and he welcomed it. It was much better than tiptoeing around a subject that needed to be dealt with. He had never wanted to be a father, but Buffy's father had failed miserably and it was up to Giles to set her straight.

"And from what I hear, it wasn't just that one time," he added. "What is it, Buffy? What happened? What made you think that living a normal life consists of sex, drugs and booze?"

"Sex, drugs and booze?" she mimicked, making a grand show of rolling her eyes. "Careful Giles, your roots are showing. Besides, what concern of yours is this? I'm of age, I'm not in high school anymore, so I can do what I damn well want."

"Of course you can. But there are people caring for you, people afraid you might drift into a direction you'll find no way out of." He deliberately softened his voice and made eye contact, "We love you, Buffy."

For a moment she held his gaze, then abruptly turned away and wrapped her arms around herself.

Giles took a step closer, but only one. Buffy looked so fragile, she might break at the slightest touch. "I know your life hasn't been a piece of cake. And I admit that at times it 'sucked beyond belief' but because of all you've been through you should know that it's precious."

She didn't respond, just stood there, untouchable in her obvious pain and Giles wished Joyce was here. She had not been perfect, far beyond it, but she would have known what to do now, how to help where Giles felt lost.

He sighed and decided that changing the subject might be in order. He'd given Buffy enough to chew on. "I talked to Willow the other day. She and Kennedy are thinking about coming to Rome for a short vacation. According to them the situation in South America is finally under control."

Giles fervently hoped Willow was right. Shortly after the hellmouth in Sunnydale had been closed news of a demonic outpour in the rainforest of Brazil had given cause for concern, and Willow and the new called Slayer had been sent to take care of it. Giles was looking forward to seeing them again. He also hoped it would do Buffy good to see her best friend.

"Oh, and Xander will be stopping by in a few days. I'm not sure what to think of it but he said something about bringing a companion." What Xander had actually said was that he'd 'met this hot chick in Vienna who wanted to see Rome', but Giles chose not to mention that.

For a moment it seemed as if Buffy would stay silent, and Giles wondered how long he could keep a one-sided conversation when at last, she opened her mouth. "I know everything, Giles." Her voice was low, controlled, and very cold.

He frowned. "Everything? What are you talking about?"

"That night, when I had dinner at your house with Dawn, you and my little sister went to study some ancient text. That's when I found it."

Despite the feeling that something wasn't right, Giles had no idea what she meant. "Would you care to elaborate?"

Buffy's head came up, her eyes unreadable. "Wesley's diaries."

"What about-" And then it hit him. "His diaries?"

"Yes. The ones he left to you, am I correct? He did leave them to you?"

Giles could only nod, feeling numb all over. She had read the diaries. Oh dear God. "Buffy-"

"No. Don't. I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear you telling me that it's going to be okay, and that time heals all wounds because it doesn't. There are wounds nothing can heal."

He knew all about wounds. He had had his fair share in his life. "I would never say something so trite, Buffy. And I realize that losing-"

"Don't." Her voice was sharp like a knife. "Don't say his name. Ever. And don't even try to deny that a part of you was glad when it happened."

Instant denial rose in Giles, followed by righteous indignation. Then, reality settled in. "You are right. A part of me was glad. I was raised a watcher, Buffy. You were talking about wounds before. I realize it was the demon who did it, but he still wore the man's face when he inflicted one of the deepest wounds."

Buffy inhaled sharply. "I know that, I was there. And I even understand. But you should understand that I can't feel that way and that's the reason we will never agree about this."

He took a deep breath and forced his voice to soften. "He died a hero, Buffy. It's what he wanted. He died fighting. Doesn't that mean anything?"

"Mean anything?" she echoed hollowly.

"Is that why you avoid Spike like the plague?" Giles asked.

Buffy stared at him for a moment, then turned away. With his back to him, her voice sounded low, "Giles, go."

"Buffy-"

"Go." It was no request but an order. Giles wanted to say something wise, something that would help her, would make her feel better about what had happened. But there was nothing he could offer. Angel was dead. And nothing he would say could change that.

to be continued …

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